How Much Time Should I Budget for my MBA Applications?

Every applicant we have worked with has been shocked by the amount of time it takes to create three to four high-quality MBA applications.

If you are applying for an MBA, then we can safely assume that you have previously applied to college and for jobs. Consequently, you may have a sense of how much time you will need to spend on your MBA applications. I’m fairly sure you’re wrong.

We have been admissions consultants for over ten years and worked with many clients who are no strangers to working fast and furious. What I can tell you is that every applicant I have worked with has been shocked by the amount of time it takes to create three to four high-quality MBA applications.

I am not talking about the time it takes to study for the GMAT and earn a top score. In this article, I will discuss how much time should you budget for the other critical elements of the written application, namely your essays, resume, recommendation letters, and application forms.

Let’s assume you plan to apply to three schools in a single application round and that once you start the application process you will work consecutive weeks between now and the deadline to complete your applications.

Do you have an estimate in mind for the amount of time you should budget for applying to three schools?

4 weeks? 5 weeks? 10 weeks? 40 hours? 50 hours? 100 hours?

My recommendation is that you should budget an average of 15–18 hours per week for ~12 weeks to build your written applications.

200 hours of work to complete three MBA applications. Really?


At MBA Prep School, we have broken the process of applying for an MBA into 10 steps that we call the MBA Prep Steps™.

To give you an idea of the scope and scale of the project of applying to business school, below we will summarize each step and provide an estimate of how much time you may need to devote to each activity based on my experience working with successful applicants to top schools.

Before we continue, let us acknowledge that everyone works at their own pace, but these estimates are in line with the experience of our clients who were deeply engaged in the process and produced successful applications of exceptional quality.

Step 1: Prepare to Apply

When: Prior to Starting

For the “early birds”, who have more than twelve weeks before it’s time to apply, you should use the time to make your candidacy that much stronger. In other posts, we have given advice about what you need to do in the preparation phase to increase your chances of getting in.

Note that we haven’t included time for these preparation activities in the 12 weeks/200 hour budget for your written applications.

Step 2: Discover Your Strengths

When: Week 1 (~12 hours)

In this step, you will complete a thorough accounting of your key differentiators, character strengths, career history, and leadership capabilities. The things you discover about yourself will serve as the building blocks for a powerful application.

Step 3: Define Your Career Goals

When: Weeks 2-3 (~20 hours)

Defining a powerful set of career goals is incredibly challenging. You must find the intersection between your strengths, passion, and sense of purpose in order to define an inspiring career vision for your career goals essays.

Step 4: Select Your Schools

When: Weeks 2-4 (~18 hours)

You need to look beyond the magazine rankings, the school’s marketing messages, and the opinions of others and instead complete in-depth school research to find the schools that are best for you.

Step 5: Identify Each School’s Fit Qualities

When: Weeks 4-6 (~13 hours)

To prove you are a better fit than your competition, you need to find out what qualities the schools you are applying to value most and use that knowledge to shape and customize every element of your application – especially your essays.

Step 6: Create Your Application Resume

When: Weeks 4-6 (~16 hours)

Most schools will require you to submit a 1-2 page resume. You need to learn what admissions officers are looking for in an MBA application resume and then build a resume that will “wow” the admissions committee.

Step 7: Write Your Essays

When: Weeks 6-12 (20+ hours)

The writing process is very demanding. From topic selection to final draft, there are really no shortcuts to creating great essays. Our estimate assumes that you will apply to three schools and complete three to five drafts of every essay.

Step 8: Select and Support Your References

When: Weeks 6-12 (~19 hours)

Selecting your references and supporting them along the way are critical aspects of a successful application. You need to guide your references to maximize the quality of the reference letters that accompany your application.

Step 9: Complete the Application Forms

When: Weeks 10 -12 (~13 hours)

The application forms provide another opportunity to further differentiate your bid for admission. You need to summarize the awards and achievements that set you apart from others.

Step 10: Prepare for Interviews

When: After Completing the 12-week Program

The admissions interview is the “final exam” in the application process. The preparation time is not factored into our budget for the application activities, as this is work that takes place once your applications have been submitted. You can easily spend 20 – 30 hours or more preparing for your interviews.

Final Thoughts

In a short article, we can only introduce the steps you need to take and provide high-level guidelines for how much time you should budget.

MBA Prep School has created on-demand admissions consulting videos that will show you how to complete every step in the process outlined above.

Our MBA Prep Steps™ program was developed by MBA Prep School’s faculty of experienced MBA admissions consultants to provide applicants like you with a powerful, step-by-step approach for building an outstanding application.

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